Soft-tip darts in the UK is virtually non-existent, however, in the recent past, I have seen soft-tip dart machines pop up in the North West of England. Although boards are available to buy, I personally only played on one machine and that was at the BDO world Darts trophy in 2018 courtesy of SOFT TIP UK.
The Soft-tip dart machines are incredible and the machine I was playing on allowed me to play players live across the world via the internet stream. My score would register on their machine whilst their score would register on mine. Not only that you could also see your opponent via live camera feed. On this score it was brilliant.
The UK hasn’t embraced soft-tip darts as well as the USA or parts of Asia. I guess the main reason is that the board is slightly bigger and thus a steel-tip player might find this game a little easier or it may be that normally you have to pay to use the machines. However, I am not sure.
So, for those who may have heard about soft-tip but not sure what it is or for those who haven’t heard about soft-tip darts at all here is a brief history.
Soft-tip Darts started in America in 1975. A small machine shop owner named Rudy Allison was travelling through Ireland when he stayed in a town called Wicklow. He spent some time playing steel tip darts with the locals but notice the flow of play was interrupted by the marking of the score on a chalkboard. He thought why someone hadn’t thought of a way of scoring the game electronically as per pinball machines. This thought consumed Rudy and, on his way, back to America, he had developed a rough idea of how a new style dartboard could calculate the scores automatically.
Over a period of a year, Rudy experimented, refined his idea and gained financial backing to develop his idea into a business. He produced a dartboard made from a plastic/latex that had thousands of holes in. The steel tip of the dart was replaced with a plastic tip, so when the dart entered the board the tip would trigger a circuit which recorded the score. This invention meant there was no need for manual marking of the game.
The boards these days come in a variety of quality, finishes and with pre-installed games such as American Cricket and the standard ’01 games to name just two. The darts used for this board are the same as a standard dart we use on a steel tip (bristle /sisal) board with one major exception, the tip!
Soft-tip darts is so called because of the material the dart point is made from plastic. Most boards also have a weight restriction limit of 18grms, this is purely to protect the board from breaking, however, there are more robust boards that will take a higher weight dart up to 24grms.
League Soft-tip darts usually have a dart weight restriction of 18grms but your local league will advise. Throwing heavier darts than allowed will get you disqualified.
Home Soft-tip dartboards vary in design and quality but a basic board complete with darts will cost you @ £25.00 - £50.00 (UK) Circa 2020
If you play Soft-tip darts in a bar, you are likely to play on a large vending dartboard machine, and these boards are set at the correct height. For home installation, you are unlikely to have such a machine. However, one UK supplier used to allow you to buy or rent these machines from SOFT TIP UK. Unfortunately, it seems the UK is a hard nut to crack when it comes to the soft-tip darts, and sadly the Soft Tip UK website no longer seems to be live.
Wall-mounted soft-tip dartboards can are available from most UK dart suppliers.
The Soft-tip dartboard setup is different from the Steel-Tip Bristle (Sisal) Standard Dartboard. The hanging height is the same 5ft 8ins / 1.73m from the ground to the centre Bullseye. The throwing distances 8ft (2.43m)
|A: Height to Centre Bull
|B: Centre Bull to Oche
|C: Throw Distance
|5ft 8ins / 1.73m
|9' 9 ¾" / 2.99m
|8ft 0ins / 2.44m
A variety of games can be played on the Soft-tip Dartboard and with electronic marking it makes each game quick. Most tournaments have a mixture of #01 Games i.e. 701 and Cricket. (See Games) Also see the FREEZE RULE and dart weight restrictions.
Soft-tip darts are played widely across the World and are bigger than the Steel-tip dart we generally play in the UK.
Steel-tip dart users may at first find some of the rules a little confusing so here are the basic differences.
Usually, a dart match consists of 701 and Cricket. With Soft-tip Darts the Bull / Outer Bull count as 50, not 50 and 25 as on a steel tip Bristle sisal dartboard. Also, if a dart hits a scoring segment of the board but falls out it still counts!
Players tend to throw for the Bullseye to reduce their scores in 701 games as this is a bigger scoring area than the treble twenty and as both the inner and outer bullseye both score 50 points you will soon find out why! You can also finish the 701 matches on the inner or outer bull. To cap it all the scoring segments are bigger!
I have selected this YouTube Video to demonstrate the game. However, a great soft-tip website is darts-theworld.com
The freeze rule was designed as a handicapping mechanism and for a steel tip dart thrower, I find the freeze rule bizarre, to say the least. This is basically the rule for team play, soft-tip darts
A player can only “check out” if his or her partner has a score that is equal to or lower than both opponent’s combined scores. If the partner’s score is higher than the combined scores of their opponents the player is “frozen” and cannot win the game at that time.
The strategy then is for the player to get as low as possible in points and hope the partner has a chance to win the game. If someone is frozen and gets to zero, the game will automatically “Bust”.
If your league is sanctioned by the National Darts Association in the USA, having your score returned to the value you had at the beginning of the round is contrary to their rules of play. A player who is frozen, and who then takes out the game, should lose the game! But before you get into any confrontation, it’s best to know if the board you are playing are on is in accordance with the National Darts Association (NDA) guidelines regarding the freeze rule. However, you don’t see this in the championship matches.
If you are interested in learning more about the game, I can recommend a book called the ‘A Quiver of 3’ by Timothy R. Bucci. In the book Timothy covers a lot about the Soft Tip Game as well as his views on equipment, building a darts team and winning strategies. His book is available online. See the link below.
The book includes the following:
Buying the right dart equipment
Understanding the Freeze Rule
Becoming more confident at the line
The best places to practice your game
Why clothes can be your worst enemy
Practising without lifting a dart
The keys to building a great darts team
Creating your own talent surge
Understanding "The Zone"
You can buy the book direct from Amazon.com
Lastly just to say I am not the best person to ask which Soft-tip dart board is the best to play on or tips to use. Information of this nature can be found on a number of Soft-tip dart sites and from local leagues. Personally, I find this an easier game to play even though the throwing distance is longer. I could quite easily hit a 180 with a standard set of soft-tip darts I was supplied and although the soft-tip darts do have some advantages over steel-tip I think it can be unfair to compare the two games as they are different.
A good steel-tip player will find soft-tip darts a little easier while a soft-tip dart player tends to find the steel-tip game a little more difficult. This is not only because the scoring segments are of different size but the soft-tip player will tend to concentrate on the bull for scoring and on a steel-tip (bristle/sisal) dartboard the point value is only worth 25 for an outer bullseye.
While using the Soft-tip dartboard I asked others their thoughts and they gave the game high praise and enjoyed playing on the electronic machine more than a steel-tip. I suppose everyone has their own preference and a few more machines seem to be hitting our shores.
Electronic or automatic scoring boards have come a long way since 1975. Available now are electronic bristle dartboards. This relatively new scoring unit uses a conventional bristle dart board and steel tip darts and is an idea for pubs and clubs that want to generate a bit more cash from us poor dart players. The principles are the same as the Soft-tip darts i.e. the machine automatically calculates the score achieved and deducts it from the amount you still need to achieve. These boards are more widely available in the USA and other European Countries but I have managed to view one at the Winmau World Masters - Bridlington UK a several years ago.
Merlin Darts supplied the Wild Bull machines on display to use at the Winmau Masters. However, their website no longer seems to be live. But the Wild Bull machines can still be found via BMI Games. I have also found another supplier that uses the Winmau sisal dartboard and again is an automatic scoring machine. They are called Fido Darts, and along with their app you can to log, you can keep track of your records. These electronic machines, like many of the soft-tip, also allow you to play players via the world wide web.